A beautiful, bold and heartbreaking book.
Award-winning writer, Carol Lefevre’s latest book, The Happiness Glass, is an impressive blend of memoir and fiction that delves into the life of a writer. It is a slim volume that alternates essays with short, interlinked stories of heroine Lily Brennan. The format allows Lefevre to meld memory and imagination to navigate difficult topics that are both relatable and heartbreaking.
Starting with a memorial essay about her own childhood in a remote regional town, Lefevre deftly portrays life in mid-twentieth century, rural Australia. Burning with Madame Bovary highlights the restrictions facing girls and women in that time and the importance of being able to independently support one’s self. Although this life appears to belong to times past, it’s scary how relevant its lessons still are today.
Lily Brennan is perhaps the personification of Lefevre’s own early longing to be a writer, to indulge in such luxuries as ‘Latin and French and art’. The reader experiences snapshots of a life through Lily’s eyes from a dusty youth spent in the outback, to overseas adventures and eventual old age. Depictions of racecourse afternoons in Broken Hill and sixties pageboy hairstyles with accompanying knee-length pencil skirts were most captivating.
In addition to the entertainment factor, the fictional shorts act as effective breathers between the intense essays. Drawing on her own life, these brave confessionals delve into Lefevre’s experiences with infertility, IVF in its own 1980s infancy, adoption and family estrangement. There are other difficult topics too, such as loneliness and ‘the dehumanising experience of isolation’, most relevant in 2020’s COVID environment. But it is those issues of children and family that most stand out as raw, uncensored and riveting. Being ‘infertile’ is still quite the taboo subject – judgement abounds from all corners of society on why a woman hasn’t had children, or has had too many, or has had them too young, or too old. While issues like this made for a sometimes harrowing read, the writer’s brave exposure leads to an increased respect for those who fight for the rights of others and who’ve lived through a much harsher world than the one we have today.
More than courageous discussions of her own life, Lefevre presents some excellent research on her topics. Who knew that the so-called ‘father of gynaecology’ researched his theories in the mid-nineteenth century by carrying out surgeries on multiple American slave women? He operated on one of these women thirteen times without anaesthetic as the common belief at the time was that black people did not feel pain as white people did. This is just one of the anecdotes Lefevre includes in her non-fiction pieces, all of which are as fascinating and enlightening as they are brutal.
It’s hard to summarise this beautiful collection that is lovely, confronting, heart-breaking and heart-lifting in equal measures. Its length means you can easily devour it in one sitting, or dip in and out for snippets of a writing life, brain food and inspiration. Lefevre’s work is accessible literature that demonstrates the power of beautiful and devastating words and is recommended to all who value timeless classics.
Reviewed by Samantha Bond
Distributed by: Spinifex Press
Released: October 2018
- Visit Carol Lefevre’s website